Taking an oral exam in a foreign language is always a nerve-wracking experience. Not only do you have to show off your language skills, but you also have to show that you are a good communicator. And, as those of you who have already had this experience will know, the more nervous you are, the worse you speak!
However, don’t panic – an oral exam can be made a lot less stressful (and therefore more successful) if you prepare it well beforehand. Here is some advice to help you do this:
1. Do some research and know the format of the exam you are going to take.
The official oral exams have many similarities, but they also differ in some ways too, so it is vital to know EXACTLY what you are going to have to do when you sit the exam. Click on the following links to see the structure of the different exams.
Do you need to prepare a topic or a monologue? If you are doing the Trinity exam, then you have plenty of time to do this. Choose something that you are interested in and that you feel comfortable talking about. However, you also need to make sure you choose a topic that can be discussed in some way so don’t choose anything that’s too descriptive. Make sure that you plan and organise your presentation well, with a short introduction, the development of 3 or 4 points or arguments and a brief conclusion that summarises or reinforces the points you have made. Don’t forget to ask the examiner at least one question.
Practice preparing monologues under pressure for the EOI exam. Using a mind map might help you to organise your ideas clearly. You could watch these videos to see how a native speaker would talk about different topics.
2. Make sure that you are familiar with the type of questions that you are likely to be asked.
What subject areas are you going to have to talk about? Find out and read some articles related to these areas in order to learn useful vocabulary and to build up a resource bank of ideas.
Are you going to have to initiate and maintain the conversation or give your opinion or some advice? Revise language funcions and remember to include them when you are doing the exam.
3. Work on your English in general (it’s never too late)!
- Get your brain thinking in English and improve your pronunciation by immersing yourself in the language in the run-up to the exam. Perhaps you could watch TV in English, listen to Podcasts (we like 6 minute English) , your favourite songs (take a look at the Lyrics Training website) or the radio (maybe Vaughan radio?).
- Meet some friends who are also preparing the same exams and chat in English.
- Find a language exchange partner who’s willing to help you.
- Why not contact an old Erasmus friend or try using social media sites, such as Italki to practice your speaking skills.
- There are now lots and lots of apps that can help you improve your vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation. You could make the most of any spare time to brush up on your weaker skills this way.
- It might sound crazy but talking to your family or pets in English might help to improve your fluency!
- And there are many, many other ways of preparing yourself for the exams. Take a look at Natalia’s blog for more great tips: preparing B2 / preparing C1
4. Work on your communication skills and general organisation.
It is much easier to listen to a person who speaks in a clear, organised and coherent way. Practice doing this with a range of connectors, even in your mother tongue. Some exams require you to give a monologue or give a presentation. When you do this, good ORGANISATION is VITAL.
5. Don’t forget about your body language
Body language and non-verbal communication, such a eye-contact and facial expressions are also important in exam situations. Listen carefully, show interest in and react and respond to what your partner or the examiner says. To learn more, watch this video of Cambridge examiners talking about what makes a good candidate in the speaking exam.
6. Familiarize yourself with the assesment criteria
Different exams do sometime value different things, so look at the assessment criteria to get a head start. Some exams place a great deal of importance on the correct use of language functions while others give more importance to fluency and accuracy, so check it out.
7. Watch other people doing the exam
If you know what to expect, you will feel calmer and it will also give you a good idea of the kind of questions you might be asked.
8. Keep calm
If you can stay calm and concentrated, your English will be better, so look for ways of dealing with the stress of this situation. A good tactic is to use fillers to give yourself breathing space and time to think. If you make a mistake, then correct yourself. If you can’t find the right word, then talk around it or describe it rather than getting stuck.
You could also try meditation or Mindfulness techniques to help you calm down before you go into the exam.
And remember, if you can stay as cool as a cucumber, the oral exam will be a piece of cake… or a walk in the park!
So… we hope that this information will help you on the big day. Good luck everyone!
If you would like more information you can use the links below:
Watch this video (that we used in class) for some more great tips.